A Glimpse of Gunnersbury in 1816

By Paul Fitzmaurice, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 16, 2007

Before the Rothschilds acquired the mansion of Gunnersbury Park it was home to Alexander Copland. Copland had acquired most of the land on which had formerly stood the large house designed by John Webb where Princess Amelia had lived between 1761 and 1786. The mansion was demolished in 1800 and Copland, a building contractor, built the present Large Mansion there for his own occupation in 1802.

Copland became friends with John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the man who was to become the sixth President of the United States of America. In 1816 Quincy Adams was American Minister in London and living in a house called Little Boston on what has become the corner of The Ride and Windmill Road (the house was demolished in the 1920s).

On 21 September 1816 Quincy Adams attended a cricket match at Gunnersbury Park and wrote the following account of the day in his diary:

“I could barely finish my Letter to my mother and my journals before three o’clock when I walked to Mr Copland’s at Gunnersbury. There was a cricket match of about twenty young men upon his grounds. They had begun at twelve 0’Clock, there was cold dinner served in a tent on the grounds between three and four and after dinner the young men returned to their cricket. George and I were invited to the dinner at three and the ladies threw a party after dinner at five. The morning had been unpromising with some rain. But the afternoon was mild and dry. The ground under the tent was damp, and we had boards under our feet whilst seated at dinner. The greatest annoyance was swarms of wasps, which were attracted by the good fare, and were buzzing around our ears, and ranging over the tables during the whole dinner time. There were only men at the dinner. Mr Carr the vicar, and his son Sir Henry Carr, Dr Nicholas and his sons Frank and George, Mr Gray, Mr Gifford, brother to Mrs. Copland, and his son, Mr Milman, Mr Roberts, a Clerk in the Exchequer, and his son-in-law, Mr. Walsh, Mr Fletcher and his son were of the party; together with Messrs White, Bedford, Polhill, Herriot and several others whom I had not known before. After sitting about an hour at the table we returned to witness the match of the cricketers which continued until the dusk.

The Temple, about 1830, detail from a painting by a member of the Copland family

The company then repaired to the Portico, a detached building near the house where they have a billiards room; an elegant dessert was there set out, and the ladies, wives and daughters of all those I have mentioned and some others joined the party. But neither Lady Carr nor any of her family were there. I took a walk around the grounds. There are seventy two acres enclosed within the garden walls. The walk round it is at least a mile and a half. The kitchen garden, fruit garden and hot house are upon a very extensive scale, and kept in the highest perfection. I was surprized at finding my walk brought me back again to the house. The Company were just rising from the dessert; and we were entertained with fireworks, rockets, squibs, serpents and the like, over a piece of water in front of the Portico. The grounds are laid out for a view from this Portico in the most beautiful style of English ornamental gardening, with the distant prospect bounded by Richmond Hill and the adjacent country. This place was formerly the property, and the residence of the King’s aunt the Princess Amelia and after her death was purchased jointly by Major Morrison and Mr Copland. It was quite dark when the fireworks were over, and we repaired to the house where we found a new accession of company, among them were my wife and Ellen Nicholas. I played with Mrs Heriot and another Lady and Gentleman. The young People danced Country dances until Midnight. Mr Roberts the Exchequer Clerk engaged me to some conversation, and he annoyed me a little by his impertinence. He is said to be a very good sort of man but a ridiculous character who in his capacity of Exchequer Clerk fancies himself the very mainspring of his government and nation. He goes by the nickname of POM among his acquaintances for his dogmatism and self-importance. We came home soon after twelve after having set down Frank and George Nicholas at their father’s door.”

The Temple in the grounds of Gunnersbury Park, referred to as the ‘Portico’ by John Quincy Adams (Gunnersbury Park Museum).

Lady Jane Carr was the widow of Spencer Perceval the prime minister who was living at Elm Grove, Ealing Common at the time of his assassination in 1812. Lady Carr had continued to live there and in 1815 she had married Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Carr the son of the Rev Colston Carr the vicar of St Mary’s, the parish church for Ealing and Old Brentford. Mr Milman was the curate at the church. Dr David Nicholas was the headmaster of Great Ealing School which the three sons of Quincy Adams attended. The Nicholas sons, Frank and George, later succeeded their father as headmasters of the school. Ellen Nicholas was one of the three daughters of Dr Nicholas and a particular friend of Quincy Adams’s wife, Louisa.

Mr Edward Roberts lived at River Long Park on Popes Lane (then called Gunnersbury Lane), Mr Richard Gray lived at North Lodge, Ealing Green and Major Morison lived at Gunnersbury House (which we now know at the ‘Small Mansion’).

The ‘Portico’ mentioned by Quincy Adams is the Temple beside the Round Pond in the grounds of Gunnersbury Park; it was then being used as a billiards room.

This extract from John Quincy Adams’ Diary is reprinted by permission of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The editor of this Journal thanks Paul Fitzmaurice of the Little Ealing History Group for sending it.


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